China-Thailand mutual visa exemption is a catalyst of globalization


Visa-free travel will foster greater mutual understanding, respect, and trust between countries.

China and Thailand have decided on a permanent mutual visa exemption starting from March 1 this year. It is a very significant development for both countries and the Southeast Asia region as a whole. The policy will facilitate the free movement of goods, capital and people. Policymakers, companies and ordinary people have applauded this decision, as it opens up enormous opportunities for all.

Tourism is a key driver of Thailand’s economic growth. In 2019, the sector accounted for 11 percent of Thailand’s GDP. It is hoped that the visa exemption could bring the number of Chinese tourists back to pre-pandemic levels. The visa exemption will begin before Thailand’s Songkran Festival (Water Festival) in April, which is the most important festival for Thais. Thailand is expected to receive a massive influx of Chinese tourists who would like to experience the “water fight” firsthand.

Thailand’s small businesses, especially street vendors, would benefit most from a substantial increase in Chinese tourists. Similarly, Chinese businesses are expected to benefit from an increase in the number of Thai tourists. This situation also offers a great opportunity for Thais to explore China, a country rich in history and culture with diverse cuisines.

From a long-term perspective, mutual visa exemption would encourage businesses to explore previously unexplored opportunities in each other’s countries. Before starting a new business,  extensive surveys and research need to be done, which will involve frequent visits to the prospective country. With visa-free travel, potential Chinese investors could easily and hassle-free visit Thailand at any time, and vice versa. This convenience helps promote ease of doing business, speeding up decision-making and transactions. As such, companies from both countries might be able to find new areas of cooperation.

Visa-free travel could also help facilitate cross-border employment. The decision to work in another country is often influenced by the distance from home and how frequently one can meet their loved ones. With the visa-free policy, family and friends can visit regularly, making it more likely for Chinese to consider working in Thailand and for Thais to work in China. This means that companies now have the opportunity to access talent from a combined pool of Chinese and Thai professionals. This will arguably help match the most suitable candidates with the right employment opportunities to maximize productivity.

The increased travel demand will also lead to more direct flights between the two countries. Airlines are also expected to explore the possibility of connecting additional cities between Thailand and China in the near future. Southeast Asia is poised to benefit from this visa-free arrangement. When traveling to Thailand, Chinese tourists may also consider visiting other ASEAN countries. This could lead to an increase in flights from Thailand to other ASEAN countries, contributing to the overall goal of ASEAN’s regional integration.

Besides Thailand, other Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia also have a mutual visa-free arrangement with China lasting for a year. As such, Southeast Asia will become a more attractive destination for Chinese tourists compared to other regions, where Chinese citizens still need to apply for a travel visa.

Anti-globalization and nationalist narratives have increasingly gained traction. This development could reduce the world to a zero-sum worldview that rejects cooperation and promotes self-centered interests. People should oppose such views and the reversal of globalization because everyone benefits most when the world remains an open place.

China’s move to establish mutual visa-free arrangements with countries to promote interconnectedness and interdependence will bring enormous benefits to the people and the global economy. It is also a significant diplomatic achievement because there must be a certain level of openness and trust between countries to come to this important decision.

Lee Pei May, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, International Islamic University Malaysia. The article reflects the author’s opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.


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